Archive for the Culture Category

Is Our Depression Culture-Bound?

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Science on January 22, 2017 by frankbures

cover_2From Poets & Writers Magazine:

Growing up, I only knew that my grandma had been “sick.” Later I heard more, and learned that she had taken her own life. But it wasn’t until I started researching a book about culture-bound syndromes that I uncovered the fuller version: Late one night, in 1968, my grandma woke up, opened a bottle of barbiturates, swallowed them all, then climbed back into bed. The next morning my grandfather found her body next to his. She was fifty-six years old. They had been married since she was sixteen and he was nineteen.

At the time the doctors said she had a nervous breakdown, or sometimes that she was depressed. But that meant something different to the doctors than it meant to her family. And as I researched my book, it started to become clear that even today it probably means something different to everyone around the world.

Rates of depression vary widely. In Korea or Japan you have a one in fifty chance of having experienced major depression over the past twelve months, while in Brazil your chance is one in ten. Symptoms vary too. According to Handbook of Depression, a textbook on mood disorders, Koreans and Korean Americans experience manifestations that others would never consider related to depression: constipation, abdominal cramps, heartburn, stiff joints, sore muscles, and increased heart rate. In cultures where excitement and happiness are considered normal, people with major depression show low energy and blunted emotional response. In cultures where emotional control is considered the norm, the opposite is true: Intensified emotional responses are a common symptom of depression. The British psychiatrist Christopher Dowrick, author of Beyond Depression: A New Approach to Understanding and Management, has suggested that depression itself should be considered a culture-bound syndrome.

Read the rest here.

Read more about Culture-Bound Syndromes in The Geography of Madness

Norway’s Prodigal Son

Posted in America, Clips, Culture on January 16, 2017 by frankbures

img_2017-01_jeff-johnson_reindeer_03_gLast year one of our neighbors, Jeff Johnson, announced that he was traveling to Norway to compete in a reality TV show called Alt for Norge . The concept was intriguing: Members of the diaspora return home to experience (and compete in) the culture they had mostly lost. The show has been a massive hit in Norway, and I undertand other countries are expanding the franchise. Keep an eye out for casting calls in an ethnic enclave near you! Jeff talked to me about the experience for Minnesota Monthly:

“I’d never seen any reality TV show of any kind, so I didn’t really know what it was about. I was told that it can be very competitive, but for us that was not the case. None of the people on the show wanted to do any backstabbing, and whenever someone had to leave we cried like a bunch of grandmothers at a funeral. I was not prepared for the depth of emotion that show pulled out of me.”

“I grew up in a rural North Dakota farming community. My uncle went to first grade not knowing a word of English. My father spoke fluent Norwegian every day of his life. Have you heard of the Laws of Jante? They’re a series of laws written by a Danish author about Norway in the 1930s: Don’t think you can teach us anything. Don’t think you have anything valuable to say, and Don’t think anyone loves you. It pervades Norwegian culture. On the show we had a ceremonial burial of the Laws of Jante. I was bawling my eyes out, because that was basically my childhood.”

Read the rest here.  (Photo by Joe Trelevnen)

Running Circles Around Us

Posted in Africa, Clips, Culture, Running, Science on August 29, 2016 by frankbures

Crawley1From Scientific American

When the starting gun fires at the Olympic track in Rio de Janeiro, there is little doubt who will be in the lead. In the Men’s 1,500 Meters Asbel Kiprop will be up front. In the women’s 5,000 meters Almaz Ayana will run away, and she may also take the 10,000 Meters. In the marathon Helah Kiprop will push the women whereas Eliud Kipchoge will be the one to watch among the men. In the Men’s 800 Meters, David Rudisha will likely hold his title and maybe break his own world record.

In other words most of these races will be dominated by runners from, or with roots in, east Africa—namely Kenya and Ethiopia, with a few Eritreans and maybe a Ugandan also standing out. Mo Farah, currently at the top of the ranking for 10,000 meters, was born in Somalia and raised in the U.K., and now trains in the U.S. Bernard Lagat, who just won the U.S. 5,000-meter Olympic qualifier (at age 41) is Kenyan-American.

East African runners have dominated for the two decades since Kenyans started winning in the mid-1990s, followed by Ethiopians shortly thereafter. This has lead to great soul searching on the part of former distance powers like the U.S. and U.K. Yet reasons for that Crawley3dominance remain hotly debated, and science has had little definitive to say about it.

The reigning theory in the West is that runners from east Africa have some evolutionary advantage over runners from other backgrounds.

Read the rest here.

Beyond the Machine Age

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Geography of Madness, Science on August 10, 2016 by frankbures

From Undark:

It used to be that when I looked in the mirror, I saw many things: a body; a collection of cells; a fantastic kind of machinery. I didn’t see these things because they were a reflection of reality, or because the body and brain are, in fact, machines. I saw them because I was born in America, and that is my culture.

In our country, we have what’s known as a mechanistic understanding of our bodies. We imagine ourselves to be machines made of meat and bone. We see the doctor as a mechanic whose job is to find the broken parts and fix them. For at least a century this has been our primary metaphor for talking about sickness and health, about how our bodies work and break down. In its popular 1960s television special, National Geographic flatly described the human body as “The Incredible Machine.”

The body is incredible, but my view of it as a machine — the validity of that metaphor — started to break down in the process of researching my book, “The Geography of Madness,” about the so-called “cultural syndromes.”

“Of course, one cannot think without metaphors,” Susan Sontag wrote in her 1989 essay, “AIDS and its Metaphors,” “But that does not mean there aren’t some metaphors we might well abstain from or try to retire.”

Read the rest here.

newbod

Eating Alone Together

Posted in Africa, America, Culture, Travel on July 29, 2016 by frankbures

the-rotarian-column-dinnerFrom The Rotarian:

There is a new ritual in American life. It goes like this: Whenever you invite someone to dinner, you must inquire about any special dietary needs. Because today, it seems that nearly everyone has drawn a line around foods that cannot pass their lips.

This could be because of allergies, moral qualms, lifestyle choices, health issues, or simple preference. The person might be a vegetarian who eats fish, a carnivore who hates carbs, a glutton who avoids gluten, or a time bomb waiting to be set off by a nut. (Asking ahead makes for a more pleasant evening than calling an ambulance.)

Hospitalization aside, one reason for this shift has been the moralization of food. Our dining choices have become identity choices, a way of saying, “This is the kind of person I am,” or “This is the kind of world I want to live in.”

This is a luxury of our age. The hunters, villagers, and small bands of Homo sapiens in times past would have thought it extremely strange, and possibly hostile, to assert one’s preferences in this manner.

Read the rest here.

Travel and Insanity

Posted in Culture, Geography of Madness, Science, Travel on July 14, 2016 by frankbures

the-rotarian-column-travelFrom the of The Rotarian

In the 1970s and ’80s, an Italian psychiatrist named Graziella Magherini began to make note of tourists who came to Florence and, while viewing great works of art, experienced a mental breakdown. Often, they had to be put on a stretcher and taken to a psychiatric hospital. Magherini looked at 106 such cases and labeled the condition “Stendhal syndrome,” after the French novelist who described having such an experience in a Florence basilica. Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky may have had a similar affliction.

According to Magherini, such a breakdown is caused by the power of art over people who are psychologically vulnerable or by “coming into contact with great works of art without the mediation of a professional guide,” as one paper on the syndrome described it. That may be the case. But such experiences are not unique to Italy, regardless of the power of its art. Rather, I suspect there was a greater power at work, one the victims brought with them: the power of their own expectations.

A similar condition has affected some Japanese tourists in Paris. Researchers observed that in Japan, “Paris has, and holds, a quasi-magical power of attraction because the city is considered a symbol of European culture.” Besides the normal stresses of travel and the vast cultural differences, the authors noted that “disappointment linked to contact with the everyday reality [of Paris] is a factor of incomprehension and anxiety, but also of disenchantment and depression.” This was dubbed “Paris syndrome” by the media.

Read the rest here.

The End of the World as We Know It

Posted in America, Art, Books, Clips, Culture, Science, Uncategorized on February 24, 2016 by frankbures

imagesConsensus is growing that we have entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene. As it does, so does anxiety about our fate as a species. This was the subject of a recent piece I did for Aeon on our love of apocalyptic fiction, film and stories. We fear the end might be near, but we also fear we are part of something from which we have no way to extricate ourselves. If you feel this too, read on.

One day in the early 1980s, I was flipping through the TV channels, when I stopped at a news report. The announcer was grey-haired. His tone was urgent. His pronouncement was dire: between the war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, AIDS in the cities, and communists in Afghanistan, it was clear that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were upon us. The end had come.

We were Methodists and I’d never heard this sort of prediction. But to my grade-school mind, the evidence seemed ironclad, the case closed. I looked out the window and could hear the drumming Hugh-Howey-WOOL-COVERof hoof beats.

Life went on, however, and those particular horsemen went out to pasture. In time, others broke loose, only to slow their stride as well. Sometimes, the end seemed near. Others it would recede. But over the years, I began to see it wasn’t the end that was close. It was our dread of it. The apocalypse wasn’t coming: it was always with us. It arrived in a stampede of our fears, be they nuclear or biological, religious or technological.

Read the rest here.